Conservative Diary

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In praise of Clegg the radical

By Tim Montgomerie

Clegg Deputy PM Regular readers will know that I wish we weren't in Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Some of my reasons are stated here. And, because of the continuing slump in Liberal Democrat support, I fear the Coalition will largely drift Leftwards. But, on a day when the Sun is describing the Deputy Prime Minister as "Calamity Clegg" (© Chris Huhne) because of his Iraq war gaffe, it should be noted that the Clegg effect is far from wholly negative.

The main benefit - so far - of being in Coalition with the LibDems - has been the 'concession' to Mr Clegg that, over the course of this Parliament, those earning less than £10,000 will stop paying income tax. The £1,000 downpayment on this policy made in George Osborne's first Budget was Conservative members' second favourite measure. First proposed by Lord (Michael) Forsyth and Edward Leigh, it delighted low tax Tories who hated the churning of low income people paying tax to the state bureaucracy from one hand and getting benefits from another wing of the bureaucracy in another.

In his weekly column for The Spectator, James Forsyth notes another important (but related) area of policy where Nick Clegg is set to be a big ally of reform;

"Duncan Smith has proposed cutting various bits of middle-class welfare. But the Treasury is against such a move. This is shaping up to be a defining argument — but one in which Duncan Smith has found an unlikely ally. Nick Clegg is, like the US cavalry, arriving just in time, arguing that there’s no point going through the agony of welfare reform only to create a system as messy as the old one. Clegg’s intervention is an example of how coalition politics is strengthening the hand of the radicals within it."

Last weekend's Observer was the first to disclose serious Treasury/ Department of Work and Pensions tensions over welfare reform. James Forsyth's identification of Clegg as an ally of IDS is new and forms one of the unlikeliest of Coalition partnerships.

> On CentreRight Matt Sinclair summarises The TaxPayers' Alliance's ideas for welfare reform.


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